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2007: The Five Best Directorial Debuts

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By Nick Schager

IFC News

[Photo: “Persepolis,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

Amidst all the new features from established auteurs, it would be easy to overlook the fact that 2007 was a banner year for debuts. In an effort to counteract any potential disregard, here are five films from six first-time helmers who, on the evidence of these maiden productions, will likely be heard from again very soon.


Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel series “Persepolis” has been rightly acclaimed for its blend of humor, pathos, and social commentary, yet its stark black-and-white visual style hardly seemed a natural fit for the big-screen. Any concerns about lost-in-translation problems, however, disappeared from the opening frames of Satrapi’s animated gem (co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud), which bursts with vibrant, prickly, poignant life. Satrapi’s film isn’t just a faithful adaptation but an energized improvement of its source material, lending the author’s personal saga of oppression and exile an aesthetic fluidity and vitality that few animated efforts, of this year or any other, can match.

Away From Her

Directed by Sarah Polley

An adaptation of an Alice Munro short story about a long-married couple torn apart by Alzheimer’s, “Away From Her” would be a remarkable feature from a filmmaker of any age. The fact that it was authored by 28-year-old actress-turned-director Sarah Polley, though, makes its success that much more stunning. It’s a tale marked by a gentle touch and a humanistic interest in the frustration, pain, loneliness and resilient optimism that accompanies growing old. And its deeply felt sensitivity extends to the treatment of its magnificent leads Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie, whose performances are given room to breathe and blossom by Polley’s composed camerawork.

The Band’s Visit

Directed by Eran Kolirin

On its face, Eran Kolirin’s wry dramedy appears poised for typical culture-clash mushiness. What it ultimately delivers, however, is an affecting dose of subtle, heartfelt sweetness. An Egyptian police band’s accidental arrival in an isolated Israeli village is the premise for this sly investigation of communication barriers, with the unexpected meeting between Egyptians and Israelis standing as an obvious allegory for current Middle East relations. Yet the beauty of “The Band’s Visit” is that it never feels the need to overtly remark upon its larger concerns, or allow them to interfere with its moving portrait of lonely souls in desperate need of reciprocated kindness.

12:08 East of Bucharest

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” is more overtly comedic than last year’s heralded Romanian import “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” but that’s not to say it’s any less profound a work. Revolving around a TV talk show host’s attempt to produce a program about whether the 1989 revolution that expelled Ceausescu from power occurred in his rural town, the film commences with dry joviality and slowly develops into a piercing — and piercingly funny — meditation on the impossibility of establishing concrete truths. Its elegant bookending shots of streetlights going on and off (visual representations of spreading politicization) are textbook examples of understated symbolism done right.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Directed by Seth Gordon

This rollicking cinematic depiction of videogame culture came courtesy of documentarian Seth Gordon, who considers his chosen social environment with sincere thoughtfulness free of patronizing mockery. Gordon’s non-fiction crowd-pleaser thrives partly because of its thrilling underdog narrative involving the quest by family man Steve Wiebe to topple arcade game legend Billy Mitchell’s record Donkey Kong score. Brimming with good guys, bad guys and colorful peripheral figures, it’s a true-life tale fit for a Hollywood film. Ultimately, though, its resonance comes less from its twists and turns than from the director’s focus on the emotional and psychological forces compelling his subjects to compete.

[Additional photos: “Persepolis,” Sony Pictures Classics; “Away From Her,” Lionsgate; “The Band’s Visit,” Sony Pictures Classics; “12:08 East of Bucharest,” Tartan; “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” Picturehouse]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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